Two years ago this month, I was sitting on the sofa in my Sir’s living room. It was my birthday. We were getting ready to go to the gym. But first, he said, I should open my presents. Two packages were in front of me on the coffee table.
Our relationship had started more than a year earlier with intense monthly BDSM play sessions. After we stopped playing sexually, we continued to go to the gym together and push each other to live healthier. We still go to the gym together, and today I consider him one of my closest friends. He knows what I like — sexually and otherwise — more than most people in my life, so his presents are always top-notch.
Inside the first package was a bottle of twelve-year Glenlivet, one of my favorite single malt whiskies. The second: a Nasty Pig jockstrap. But it was not just any Nasty Pig jock. I sniffed. That distinctly musky, delicious aroma, which can only be found in the playrooms of gay circuit parties and in gyms across the country, lingered in the stitching. “I wore it for a few days,” he said. “You’re welcome.”
Used underwear is one of my fetishes.
You may be asking: What is a fetish, and how is it different from a kink? I clarified these two terms in my list of 30 kinky terms every gay man should know. But I’ll reiterate their distinction here. Kinks are “unconventional” sexual interests, like bondage or paddling. That’s it. Fetishes — also called paraphilias — are objects, materials, features, or articles of clothing, like used jockstraps, that people respond to sexually, and that enhance or facilitate sexual arousal. To clarify: fetish objects are not sexual on their own, like whips or dildos. Fetish objects become sexualized when someone responds to them sexually.
You’ve probably heard of a few obscure fetishes, like high-heeled shoes and rubber duckies. Fetishes are rapidly moving out of their kinky niche and into pop culture. Stay on top of (or under) the trend with this list of 36 fetishes — some well known, others less so — that you need to know about.
Leather is one of the most commonly fetishized materials, and certainly one of the oldest. Tom of Finland’s 1970s drawings of biker boys, clad in impossibly form-fitting leather, solidified leather as a staple of gay culture. Today, the leather community is global, united by national and international leather competitions that celebrate this fetish at gatherings like the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, International Mr. Leather in Chicago, and Folsom Berlin.
What does a leather event look like? It looks like throngs of men in leather harnesses, jock straps, jackets, boots, gloves, aprons, fully-body uniforms, and other garb. Since many leather fetishists are into many other fetishes and kinks, the leather community is generally considered synonymous with the kink community as a whole.
Photo source: The Tom of Finland Foundation
The second most commonly fetishized material is rubber. Rubber guys are usually into the same fetishes and enjoy the same kinks as leather guys, but prefer a different material. They have their own large-scale gatherings like Mister International Rubber, also in Chicago.
It is common for rubber guys to wear full-body suits that cover greater amounts of skin. Rubber is not used for harnesses to the same degree that leather is, although a good leather store and kink supplier like Mr. S Leather in San Francisco will have plentiful options of gear in both materials.
Here’s a great opportunity to make the distinction between “kink” and “fetish” — a difference which, colloquially, is somewhat arbitrary since many people use the terms interchangeably.
Rope is a common material used in bondage, which is a kink, but rope is not used exclusively. People into bondage may also use duct tape, leather cuffs, chord, zip ties, neckties, and other tools of restraint. But since many kinksters (kinky people) into bondage fetishize rope specifically, rope becomes a fetishized material.
Rope is more rustic and romantic than duct tape. Duct tape is reminiscent of police sirens and robberies — the restraint material you’d use if you want to be tied, gagged, and left in a closet for a few hours. Rope, in contrast, calls to mind your youthful fantasies of getting captured by horny pirates and tied to the mast — and all the wonderful scenarios that follow.
Also called maschalagnia, armpit fetishes are difficult to explain to those who don’t share them. Our culture views armpits as nasty places on the body. While everyone should probably use antiperspirant before a job interview or family gathering, some of us really enjoy the smell (and taste) of pits, sans deodorant, and get turned on by it.
This fetish probably falls under the umbrella of “uniform” fetishes, but I separated it since there is not a standard uniform for skateboarders, punks, and alternative guys. Some people, including my former Sir, fetishize the stereotypical look of skateboarders, from their neck tattoos to their lip rings, from their Diamond Supply Co. t-shirts to their Vans shoes.
People who live in the United States are taught from a young age that uniforms should be viewed with respect, especially police uniforms, military uniforms, and firefighter uniforms. These socio-politics of respect naturally morphed into male strippers dressed as firefighters and cops — evidence that uniforms are heavily fetishized by straight and LGBT people alike.
There is a massive (albeit more underground) fetish surrounding guys with buzz cuts, or “skinheads.” This fetish typically overlaps with rubber and skateboarder/punk wear. By extension, buzzing someone’s hair is a common kink practice that is generally seen as a form of humiliation and “ownership.”
Skinheads and the guys who fetishize them tend to also fetishize urine and enjoy fisting.
Shaving the body is typically seen as a nonsexual activity and part of a mundane, un-erotic self-maintenance regimen. But for some, shaving (themselves and others) is extremely arousing. As a sexual activity, shaving would probably be considered a kink rather than a fetish. But trimmers, razors, and other modes of shaving and cutting body hair are fetishized objects, so they deserve a mention. Guys I’ve met that are into this fetish get aroused from the sensation of electric buzzers running against their skin — and have had more than a few uncomfortable erections in barber chairs.
Remember how rope is a commonly fetishized bondage material? Duct tape is a close second.
For guys who enjoy getting gagged, duct tape is a staple. Duct tape calls to mind kidnap fantasies and dark hallways, and nothing beats that hot, muffled gagging sound. Note: as sexy as duct tape is, at some point you will have to pull it off, which will hurt. This writer suggests using vet wrap as a nice alternative.
An old-school fetish object, gas masks are rarely found in popular culture anymore. Originally used in the WWI trenches, they were an integral part of the social landscape during the Cold War and in the early days of gas and chemical warfare. Today, gas masks are really only seen at riots where tear gas is used. As such, they have that innately revolutionary quality, and are often used by graffiti artists for protection against harmful fumes from spray paint. All this lovely protest imagery and violent Americana lends itself beautifully to fetishization. Gas masks are common erotic objects for kinksters into breath play and are popular among rubber fetishists.
Don’t confuse this fetish with the consumption of aphrodisiacs like oysters and chocolate. Food fetishes can exist for any food, from cheesecake to steak tartare. Satisfying food fetishes does not always mean eating it. If you don’t think food can be sexualized, try adding chocolate sauce, honey, whipped cream, and M&Ms to your next wild sex session.
Some people love seeing, touching, licking, massaging, tickling, and getting penetrated (anally or vaginally) by feet. Foot fetishes naturally lead people to think of shoe fetishes, although these are not the same. Like feet, some guys love sniffing, licking, and touching women’s shoes. (I personally love licking a dominant leather man’s boots, but this is more a sign of submission than a legitimate boot fetish.)
I was cuddling with a guy recently when I made a comment that he thought was very strange. I said, “Your hands are really sexy.”
He had firm, small, smooth, meaty hands — in other words, great hands for fisting. But hand fetishes don’t have to be linked to fisting, which is the kink practice of slowly inserting the whole hand (and more) into the anus or vagina, with the assistance of buckets of lube. Many people get aroused from hands: the way they look, the way they feel, their shape, their texture, and the sensation of touching them.
No list of fetishes would be complete without amputees. My ex-boyfriend, in fact, thought guys with amputations, prosthetic legs, and other missing limbs were extremely sexy, and every morning I made sure all my limbs were still intact.
Alex Minksy has more or less made a career from this fetish. The ex-military amputee is a common muse for L.A. photographer Michael Stokes. For the sake of clarity, I should stress that the fetishization of amputees is not the same thing as the kink practice of actually removing limbs for the sake of sexual gratification, which is considered an extreme body-modification kink that is by and large not endorsed by the international kink community. Simply put: you can think amputees are sexy, but don’t go cutting off someone’s leg, or your own. That’s not OK.
Photo source: Broadway Bares, photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia
Doctor’s offices — along with a wide range of medical tools like speculums and catheters — have become so commonly fetishized that, like locker rooms and sports gear, they have long become a popular porn genre altogether. You’ve seen it: the porn scenario where the delicate patient gets “probed” by the gloved doctor, who is conspicuously naked beneath his lab coat.
As phallic-shaped instruments of power, it is no surprise that guns are heavily fetishized, although, for obvious reasons, exploring this fetish has an accompanying degree of risk attached. There is endless kidnapping and rape-fantasy porn on the Internet that features guys and girls being “forced” into sex at gunpoint (as an aside to their directors, these scenarios teeter into the absurd when they start orally servicing the barrel).
Also called klismaphilia, enema fetishes are commonly explored in amateur gay and straight porn. As useful tools for cleaning out the anal cavity, enemas and douches are used by bottom guys and anyone looking to enjoy mess-free anal sex, so naturally they have become part of sex itself. Aside from their usefulness, enemas are generally considered a healthy occasional practice, and have become a sexualized object all on their own.
The fetishization of “adult babies” is hard to separate from the kink practice of acting like a baby or infant, which many adults are into, and which typically involves them wearing diapers. The terms get tricky here. Wearing diapers would be considered a kink, but erotic stimulation from diapers in general, regardless if you wear them, makes them fetish objects. This fetish may or may not be related to feces (see #33).
Many guys have fetishes for piercings — also called piquerism — and as a result may also enjoy the body-mod kink of piercing the skin, which some take to extremes. I have a fetish for Prince Alberts — circular piercings that go through the head of the penis — but I do not personally have one, which means I enjoy this fetish but do not practice the kink of piercing myself or someone else for pleasure. (This will change the minute I get my long-awaited PA.)
Scars are very sexy. They tie in to our culture’s icon of the rugged warrior, the roughed-up cowboy, the soldier wounded from battle. For some people, they are an extremely strong turn-ons. These people have scar fetishes, and may sometimes choose to intentionally scar themselves in order to give themselves a feature they consider attractive. Not to belabor a distinction, but doing so would probably be considered a body-mod kink. Scars as erotic stimuli are fetishes.
You know by now that shaving tools and buzzed haircuts have fetishes attached to them. Beards and body hair should be less surprising, especially these days. Beards are so sexually charged and erotically idealized among today’s scruffier populations of gay men that one might forget the fact that beards are still, technically, fetish objects.
“You’ve been a very naughty boy. You need to stay after class for a hard lesson.”
Most of us should be familiar now with the fetishes surrounding teachers, desks, rulers, chalkboards, and other classroom fare. Some kinksters may explore these fetishes by replicating a classroom setting for their own form of interrogation torture and role play.
With all the vampire romance and gore porn that composes today’s literary and cinematic milieu, it is no surprise that blood is an increasingly popular fetish. A small number of kinky sex practices allow you to explore this fetish with little risk of long-term injury — piercing, whipping, etc. — but they are not without risk of transmitting HIV, Hep C and other STIs. As a rule of sex and of life, if you see blood, it usually means something is wrong. Therefore blood play is a difficult fetish to explore safely. The kink community does not endorse injurious and unsafe sex practices.
Yes, it’s true. I watched clown porn the other night just to see if this is a real fetish. It is.
I have heard it proposed more than once that fetishes are psychological conditions that manifest themselves as the only responses certain people can have to stimuli that they would otherwise consider repulsive. I personally have never fully bought this claim. However, it is no secret that clowns — which will likely be remembered in a thousand years as one of the worst creations of modern man — are commonly fetishized figures, and I cannot help but wonder if fetishizing clowns is the only way some people can respond to their horror. The mind is capable of doing many incredible things, like transferring pain into pleasure, stress into desire, and fear into eroticism, so while I cannot justifiably make the claim that all fetishes are the mind’s roundabout method of dealing with revulsion, I do wonder why clowns have emerged as such a surprisingly common fetish.
Photo of Ouchy the Clown by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid
I promised my scat fetishist friend in Dallas that he would be represented on this list. Coprophilia is sexual stimulation from feces, and while the general population’s response to it is bound to be pretty strong, this fetish is more common than you might suspect, particularly among gay pig players, fisting enthusiasts, and kinky leather men. Despite its popularity within a more niche section of the gay male population, it is generally considered an unhygienic fetish to explore, since handling and consuming human fecal matter carries with it certain health risks. In my limited experience, it is also one of the more heavily stigmatized fetishes, even within the kink community.
Remember those adolescent longings for the high school quarterback? Perhaps you enjoyed varsity baseball for more reasons than you let on. The fetishes surrounding sports gear and sport environments are so common that locker room porn has become its own popular genre. Prominent gay clothing brands like Nasty Pig and Cellblock 13 draw their design inspiration from tried-and-true sports wear, and standard gay circuit attire will always feature a pair of football pants with the front lacing beckoningly open.
Also called agalmatophilia, this fetish applies to dolls, mannequins, statues, and anything that resembles a human without actually being one. Note: while sex dolls and inflatables with porn star faces may appeal to people who enjoy this fetish, I would not immediately consider these objects fetish objects, since they are specifically designed for sexual arousal.
Also called chronophilia (and sometimes ageism), the fetishization of age is a hotly debated topic in gay culture. The term swings both ways: this fetish applies when someone older fetishizes the specific age of someone younger, and when someone younger fetishizes the specific age of someone older. The fetish doesn’t require a significant age difference — just the fact that someone’s age itself is a turn-on.
Conceptually, this fetish opens up debate surrounding the fetishization of other characteristics like skin color and body type. Some argue that fetishizing certain physical characteristics like age and weight is no different than feet and hand fetishes, which we generally do not frown upon. Others say that age fetishes, like skin color and body type fetishes, are not fetishes at all, and that the reduction of a person’s features into points of desire (and, by extension, rejection) is dehumanizing and smacks of racism and body-shaming.
Debate rages. Age fetish deserves inclusion on this list for the sheer purpose that it shows how fetishes can cross from the playfully erotic into more culturally profound and impactful subjects. The whole concept of fetish reveals that anything in the world, from pool floats to ice cream, can become sexual objects if someone responds to them that way, and as such they unleash our sexual desires from the narrow confines that our culture tends to place them in.
This being said, fetish exploration is not a free-for-all. There is a trepidatious line between fetishizing balloons and fetishizing blood. That vague line exists throughout the world of kink, which is why the motto “safe, sane, and consensual” should be strictly adhered to as you explore the things that turn you on — which, I must stress, are worth exploring. Your birthdays just got a lot more interesting.